From reality TV to wonder kid Lee

TYCHY, POLAND - MAY 31: Kangin Lee of Korea Republic plays with the ball during the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup group F match between Korea Republic and Argentina at Tychy Stadium on May 31, 2019 in Tychy, Poland. (Photo by Aitor Alcalde - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
  • Valencia spotted a six-year-old Lee Kangin on a reality TV show

  • Lee watched their Copa del Rey conquest from Poland

  • The 18-year-old is determined to help Korea Republic past Japan

Lee Kangin has impressed with his maturity at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019, despite being the youngest member of the Korea Republic squad. Such is his ease on the ball that it is not hard to see why Valencia handed him his La Liga debut in January.

In coming on in the 86th minute of his side’s 1-1 draw with Real Valladolid, he became the second-youngest player to appear in the 2018/19 Spanish top flight, at the age of 17 years, ten months and 24 days. Only Ander Barrenetxea of Real Sociedad was younger, at 16 years, 11 months and 24 days.

Lee owes his presence in Spain to his appearance on a Korean TV reality show called Shoot Dori. Though he was only six at the time, that did not stop him from catching the eye of Valencia’s scouts, who signed him up for the club’s training academy.

One of the highlights of Lee's fledgling career came when his side took on local rivals Levante in the Valencia derby. “It was my first match at the Mestalla and it was an unforgettable occasion for me, my family and all my friends,” he said.

There were more happy memories for Lee when, much to his delight, Valencia upset Barcelona in the recent Copa del Rey final: “I watched the match on TV in Poland and I was so, so happy at the end. I took the opportunity to congratulate everyone at my club.”

Lee fact file:

  • Name: Lee Kangin

  • Position: Forward

  • Club: Valencia

  • Date of birth: 19 February 2001

  • Height: 5ft 8 ins (1.73m)

  • Weight: 68kg

Eclipsing '83

Lee made a big contribution to Korea Republic reaching the knockout phase, setting up their opener in the vital win over Argentina with a superb cross for Oh Sehun: “I know how good he is in the air, so I just played the best ball I could, knowing he would put it away.”

Korea Republic take on Japan in the Round of 16, an Asian derby that promises to be a gripping encounter: “We put a lot of effort in and we deserved to qualify. We need to get past Japan now.”

The Taeguk Warriors’ best performance in the tournament came at Mexico 1983, when they finished fourth. Though they have since failed to advance beyond the quarter-finals, the drive and enthusiasm of their gifted young playmaker could be about to change all that.